High Drama in the Sky Causes Flight to Turn Back

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A passenger flew off the handle during a Delta Airlines Beijing-bound flight from Seattle, forcing the plane to turn back.

  • Tried to open exit door
  • Managed to push the emergency release lever halfway
  • Punched flight attendant
  • Struck fellow passenger in the head with wine bottle
  • Flight attendant hit assailant over the head with two wine bottles
  • Disruptive passenger combative all the way back to Seattle 
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Delta Airlines flight 129 took off from Seattle bound for Beijing at 5.24pm on Thursday.

On board was first-class passenger Joseph Daniel Hudek IV, 23, of Tampa, Florida. He was travelling on a dependent travel pass – a perk afforded to family members employed by the airline.

About 45 minutes into the flight, Hudek went into the forward restroom, came out quickly, asked an attendant a question, and then went back in.

Two minutes later, he exited the restroom, suddenly lunged for the exit door, grabbed the handle and tried to open the door.

He was able to move the door handle mechanism and push the emergency release lever halfway.

Aircraft cabin doors cannot be opened at high altitudes because of the differing pressures inside and outside the jet’s cabin, and the Delta plane was cruising at high altitude, at 32,000 feet, when the incident happened.

However, at a lower altitude, it was possible the door might open.

Two attendants grabbed Hudek but he pushed them away.

The attendants signalled for help from several passengers and notified the cockpit by telephone.

Hudek punched one flight attendant twice in the face and struck at least one passenger in the head with a red dessert wine bottle. Then he attempted again to open the exit door.

As the brawl raged on, another flight attendant grabbed two wine bottles and hit Hudek over the head with each, breaking one of them.

The Associated Press reported that according to a flight attendant, “Hudek did not seem impacted by the breaking of a full litre red wine bottle over his head, and instead shouted, ‘Do you know who I am?’ or something to that extent.”

A passenger got him in a headlock but he broke out of it. Finally, several passengers held him long enough to place zip-tie restraints on him.

He remained “extremely combative” all the way back to Seattle and needed to be restrained by multiple passengers.


Reportedly, fighter jets escorted the Boeing 767, with 207 passengers on board, back to Seattle where it landed safely at 7.09pm.

A passenger and a flight attendant were hospitalised with minor injuries. Hudek, who was also injured, declined treatment from medics and was taken into custody.

The flight re-departed for Beijing after midnight.

A criminal complaint was filed on Thursday. Hudek appeared in the US District Court on Friday but he did not speak during the hearing. His attorney, Robert Flennaugh II, declined to comment.

Hudek was charged with interfering with a flight crew. The charge carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

He is expected to remain in custody at least until a detention hearing on Jul 13.